[gtranslate] “Go Home; You’re Drunk:” Von Hildebrand on Holy Sobriety - Eglise Catholique Saint James (Saint Jacques)

“Go Home; You’re Drunk:” Von Hildebrand on Holy Sobriety

“Go Home; You’re Drunk:” Von Hildebrand on Holy Sobriety

For those of you who aren’t into meme culture, first of all, I salute you—it takes a truly disciplined soul, and a unique grace from God, to be aloof to jokes from the digital realm. I’d envy you, but since envy is a sin and half of my life is spent on these contemplation killers, allow me to humor you instead.

When one says (or texts) to a friend or colleague, “Go home. You’re drunk,” it means that said friend or colleague is not operating at 100%. They claim it is Wednesday when it is, in fact, Friday. They surprise you with food that they forgot you are allergic to. They come to work with two different shoes on their feet. When you say, “Enjoy your trip to Spain with your family!” they respond by saying, “You too!”

Go home. You’re drunk.

We can’t blame them, though, can we? They are trying to meander through this life just like us—overwhelmed by all the things there are to do on a daily basis. Laundry alone is enough to jostle our minds like frozen strawberries in a blender. Pretty sure I still have a load in the washer from last week because I forgot to empty the dryer. And one day I will find the secret society where all my missing socks plot to usurp me, their negligent master. Add work to your laundry list of to-dos, and family, and every commandment from Leviticus, every paragraph from the Catechism, every exhortation, apostolic letter, and encyclical from the Popes, and every doctrine the Church has decreed and the goal of becoming “perfect, like God is perfect” seems farther and farther out of reach (Mt 5:48).

Go home. You’re drunk. You’ll never achieve perfect holiness. It’s all an illusion.

Or, is it?

Von Hildebrand proposes five different categories of spiritual sobriety, some holier than others. I’d like to play a game with you using these five figures. I’ll define their interpretations of reality in how they regard the spiritual universe, and you will tell them either “Go home. You’re drunk,” or “Stay, for you are sober.”

Let’s play, shall we?

First, Von Hildebrand introduces the denier of the spiritual universe. This person knows only what the physical world can teach him. He may have a moral code, but only inasmuch as it benefits his survival and well-being. His primary goal in life is to eat, drink, and be merry (emphasis on the DRINK). What do we tell this man?

Go home. You’re drunk.

Up second, there is the acceptor of the spiritual universe but only to his own utilitarian benefit. This man says, “I believe in God so much as it benefits me. My eternal salvation is on the line, so I’ll do good only to gain this prize, not out of love for my Lord. I dodge the crosses I receive. I give to the poor only from my excess. I pray with my lips, but not my heart. Jesus loves me, so clearly He wants me to be comfortable all the days of my life.” What do we tell this man?

Go home. You’re drunk.

Number three on our list of holy “sobriets” is the man who accepts the spiritual universe and believes that he has attained perfection already. The man successfully reasons that his very existence is contingent upon God’s power and focuses all his energy on bathing himself in God’s perfect light. He goes to daily Mass twice, once at his own parish then again in another across town. He recites the 20 mysteries of the Rosary daily and prays all seven hours of the Divine office in Latin. He spends 11 hours a day in adoration and publicizes his spiritual insights to all the pagans on social media when he is on his bathroom breaks. He’s memorized the Summa and reads three books on Catholic spirituality per week, four if it’s a Scott Hahn book because there’s always room for that man’s scholarly genius and hilarious puns. Like osmosis, this man’s constant contact with perfection makes him believe he is perfect, saying like the Pharisee to the tax collector in Luke’s Gospel, “’O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity—greedy, dishonest, adulterous—or even like this tax collector’” (Lk 18:11). What do we tell this man?

Go home. You’re drunk.

The fourth man is an interesting case. He accepts the spiritual universe as well as the physical world that surrounds him. He has a moral code and a quasi-understanding of metaphysics. But instead of accepting his limitations as a human, he allows the natural to be a direct translation of his spiritual favor. He’s much like the Big Bad Wolf in a way. Instead of saying, “Why, what big eyes you have,” he says, “Why, what impatience you have!”

“The better to reprimand sinners, my child.”

“And what a calm demeanor you have!”

“It is a direct exemplar of my inner holiness, my child.”

“And what a big head you have!”

“The better to retain all of the knowledge of holy religion, my child.”

This man puts the cart before the horse. His natural state dictates his spirituality. Only Christ can dictate such things. A man like this cannot transform himself into Christ for he has already filled himself with his own nature—there’s no room for Jesus. What do we tell this man?

Go home. You’re drunk.

There is a final contestant. He is the man who doesn’t need anyone to tell him he is drunk—he already knows. He is fully aware of his imperfections and strives to limit any and all imbibing of sins that keep him inebriated. He knows this is impossible and calls upon the Lord to take his human nature and replace it with the divine, to fill him with the life-giving water of mercy, God’s forgiveness, the elixir of true spiritual perfection. He hungers for holiness, empties himself, and lets God replace his earthly drunkenness with holy sobriety, “satisfying his longing, good measure, and flowing over” (Divine Office). He knows he is human, but he also knows he is destined to become like God, a partaker in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

The holy sober man knows that “Only by developing along the proper lines in the framework of earthly life can [he] mature for eternity” (Von Hildebrand, Transformation in Christ, Holy Sobriety, p.472). He “relies more on factual evidence than on inner voices and feelings” (VH 476). And he “is free from the obsession that he must needs be something unique and extraordinary…” (VH 477).

To this man we do not say “Go home, you’re drunk.” Instead, we say “Stay, for you know you are human. Stay, for you can point us to where the jars of life-giving water are. Stay, for you have been crucified with Christ, and water that flowed from His side now flows from your life into ours. Stay, for you are alert enough to protect us from our drunken imperfections, patient enough to withstand our hangovers and relapses, and willing to walk with us as we confront the joys and sorrows of reality together.

Stay, for you are sober.

Stay, because you love us.

Photo by Alice Pasqual on Unsplash

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